Bettye Hudson Galloway
Julie sat under the shade of the pear tree beside the muddy
stream and selected a pear which had fallen to the ground. She ate down to
the core on the good side of the fruit. She edged her way around the pear
toward the decaying portion and stopped nibbling only when her tongue
touched the fermenting stickiness of the rotted side. She examined the
core, noticing the opaque seeds exposed to the light, and allowed a bee to
settle into the space dug by her teeth before she tossed it with an
underhanded motion into the ditch. The bee left its refuge and droned
upward as the remains of the pear sank into the muddy stream. Julie got up
and plodded her way down the path to the house. She opened the ragged
screen door that provided no barrier for the flies that swarmed around and
through the house. At the back of the hall she heard her mother in the
kitchen, and she made her way to the sound of activity. She crawled onto
the backless bench and popped her elbows on the faded red-checkered oilcloth
covering the table.
"Move your elbows, Julie. Murray and Marie will be through with
the milkin' in a minute, and I've got to get supper on the table."
Julie watched as her mother placed a pot of peas in the middle
of the table. She walked back to the stove and returned with a black
skillet filled with cornbread. "It's a cryin' shame we ain't got any
buttermilk," said Estelle. "Sure would taste good with this hot cornbread.
Julie, run out and get us a few of them big red tomaters off the far vines.
I'll slice up some of them, and we won't even miss the buttermilk."
"Okay." She slid off the bench and held the door open as her
brother and sister entered, each with a foaming milk pail. The door slammed
behind her as she made her way to the garden.
She selected four firm ripe tomatoes. Holding them cupped in
her skirt, she made her way around the house to the pear tree. She
carefully let the tomatoes slide to the ground, stood on tiptoe, and picked
a pear for each member of the family. Folding them in her skirt, she
replaced the tomatoes, one by one, and returned to the house with added
touches to the family's meal.
Murray and Marie were already seated at the table. Her mother
finished pouring glasses of milk before sitting down at the head. "Bring a
knife before you come," she said to Julie as she saw that the rest of the
supper had arrived, "and we'll slice up some of these for our plates."
"Momma," said Julie as she slid back into her place on the
bench, "the ditch has got water in it and it didn't rain."
"I know it," said Estelle, "that's 'cause I spent half the day
pourin' it in there."
"I helped, too," added Murray, indignantly. 'Yep, we drawed
water all evenin' and poured it out."
"What were you drawin' the water for?"
"Well," said Estelle as she bit into a hunk of cornbread, "you
know how bad the water's been tastin' and how bad it's been smellin' lately?
Well, today, when I pulled up the bucket it had part of the old tomcat in
it. I guess that's why we ain't seen him around lately!"
"Yep," said Murray. "We had to keep drawin' for the rest of him
with the well bucket. We had to get him all out 'cause I hate to get cat
hairs in my mouth when I drink out of the dipper. Julie, hand me the peas."
Julie picked up the pot by the still-warm handle and moved it
across the table to her brother. She picked up her fork and shoveled the
peas from her plate onto it. She glanced at the fork as she raised it
toward her mouth and stared at two peas, side by side, that stared back at
her, just like the eyes of the old tomcat when he dared her to bother him
while he was lazing in the sun.
She hesitated, the hot bile rising in her throat. She looked
around the table. Estelle, Murray, and Marie were fully attentive to the
food in front of them. They ate on, paying no attention to Julie as she
gagged and slid from the bench. She made it to the screen door and to the
edge of the back yard before her stomach cleansed itself, spewing its
contents onto the ragged grass.
She leaned for a few minutes against the post supporting the
hit-and-miss barbed wires that served as a clothesline.
Although still pale and weak, she felt better and re-entered the
house. She walked past the family, still zestfully gorging themselves,
through the kitchen, into the back room, and lay down on the bed she shared
with Marie. Nobody noticed her as she passed through the kitchen; in fact,
nobody had noticed her absence from the table.
Bettye Galloway was born, reared, and educated in Oxford, Lafayette County,
Mississippi. She has now retired from Mississippi state service (primarily
the University of Mississippi) and as executive vice president of a drug